Appeared in Spring 2012 LINKS.
By: Mike Blum
ONE YEAR AFTER what many consider the most memorable Masters ever—Jack Nicklaus’s sixth victory at the age of 46—an Augusta native provided a worthy encore with a shot that still resonates in golf history a quarter century later. Larry Mize won the 1987 Masters with his improbable chip-in from right of the 11th green, ending a sudden-death playoff that also included two of the greatest players of that time—Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros.
Mize was just 28 and a promising but unexceptional player who had won exactly one PGA Tour title while letting a handful of them slip away, earning the unfortunate nickname Larry D-Mize. Coming into the Masters he was among the hotter players on tour and was a factor in Augusta from day one. He and playing partner John Cook were 1-2 after the opening round, with Mize (70) trailing by one stroke. Mize remained one off the lead after 36 holes, tied for second with Cook at 142 behind Curtis Strange. A strong Saturday finish left him two in back of Ben Crenshaw and Roger Maltbie after 54 holes in a four-way tie for fifth at 214.
On Sunday Mize took the lead with birdies at 12 and 13 but fell back with bogeys at 14 and 15, hitting his second shot at 15 into the pond beyond the green. Needing a birdie at the 18th to reclaim a tie for the lead, he rifled a 9-iron to six feet and nailed the putt, finishing in a tie at 285 with Norman and Ballesteros. The playoff began on the 10th with Mize seemingly overmatched by the two international superstars. But it was he who had the chance to win on the first extra hole after another superb approach left him only 12 feet for birdie. He came tantalizingly close but missed.
Ballesteros had won both the 1980 and ’83 Masters in dominant fashion, and had had five excellent chances to add a third green jacket in the ’80s, including a year earlier when his back-nine collapse opened the door for Nicklaus’s charge. Now, once again, he faltered. A halting three-putt bogey on the 10th elicited a sympathetic chorus of moans from those ringing the green.
While most of the crowd surged ahead, I watched Ballesteros and his caddie slowly trudge back up the 10th fairway to the clubhouse, wondering how a player of his skills could keep failing to capitalize on chances to win a tournament he’d captured so easily earlier in the decade.
At 11 Mize appeared in serious trouble when he bailed out on his approach, leaving a pitch shot of roughly 35 yards, with Norman on the green putting for birdie.
Standing well up the 11th fairway but armed with binoculars, I pressed against the gallery ropes to get a clear view as Mize crisply struck his pitch and then followed his ball as it landed short of the green and scooted toward the hole.
From my angle, there was no way of telling how accurate the shot was, but when it squarely struck the flagstick and plopped into the hole, the crowd lining the edge of Amen Corner erupted. Shrieks, screams, all manner of flailing arms, and a general sense of incredulity emanated from the gallery which was divided pretty evenly between locals pulling
for Mize and those on the side of the charismatic Australian.
I looked at Norman who seemed to be in mild shock, similar to the previous year at Inverness when Bob Tway had holed out from a bunker on the 72nd hole to beat him in the PGA Championship.
Of the four decades of Masters I’ve attended, it is the wildest finish I’ve ever witnessed. Having an Augusta native win it with a miracle shot made it just a little more personal, but the stunning conclusion did not need a local connection to make it an unforgettable memory.
Mike Blum is a former sports writer for the Augusta Chronicle.